Specialty Coffee

What is Specialty Coffee?

The term ‘Specialty Coffee’ describes the high standards that are applied throughout the  complete lifecycle of coffee, by which we mean the entire process of growing, processing and serving this wonderful product.

Factsheets on Specialty Coffee are available in Lao and in English

SCA training at Comma Coffee, Vientiane

The quality of coffee at the end of the lifecycle is measured on a 100-point scale by qualified tasters.  The process of tasting and evaluating coffee is known as ‘cupping’, and this is done using samples of beans from a single origin (ie. a country, region, or even a single farm). To be considered a Specialty Coffee, the samples must achieve a cupping score of more than 80.  

Specialty quality can only be achieved when everybody involved in the coffee lifecycle works together to maintain a high standards.  This includes: 

  • Farmers who know the best location to plant their coffee bushes, how to improve their soils, control pests, pick coffee at the right time, and produce green beans of the best grade.
  • Roasters who have experience in checking beans for defects, who understand the complex chemistry involved in roasting, and who can create the best flavour potential in the coffee.
  • Baristas who are trained to prepare a range of different drinks using a variety of brewing equipment, making sure the full potential of the roasted coffee is delivered to customers.
  • Customers who recognise the many flavours that can be found in a good cup of coffee and appreciate all of the effort and skill that has gone into producing it.

Standards for each stage in the coffee lifecycle have been established by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), an international organisation which coordinates training for roasters, baristas and the managers of farms and cafes.  Look for the SCA logo which is a sign of excellence in the coffee sector.

What is a Q Grader?

A Q Grader is a person who is certified by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) to grade and score coffees utilizing the standards developed by the Specialty Coffee Association. Becoming a Q Grader requires passing 22 tests! There are approximately 7,300 Q Graders in the world, including 4 in Laos. More information is available here.

Keoset Cupping Scores

Below are cupping results for samples of Keoset coffee as given by Q graders from outside of Laos . These scores range from 79 to 83.75. Scores above 80 are considered Specialty Grade, which means that farmers in Xieng Khouang are already producing world class coffee! However, there is still room for improvement, and in partnership with the buyers, the producers in Keoset are striving for better scores.

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